Labels are not for humans

Every day I wake up to a different version of me. Will I be happy or sad, will I feel safe or scared? It’s not that I am unstable; I have grown to become a master of me. The things I feel because of my Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) aren't invisible to others. I like to think of myself as a warrior in my own right, because I face invisible battles every day. But we all have our own battles, diagnosis or not. Do you know what mood you will be in when you wake up tomorrow?

I was afraid of people judging me

I don’t think depression can be summed up in one image. I think at times it’s a lot of images. I spent some time with my niece a few days after I had felt the lowest I have ever felt. My nieces and nephew mean the world to me. They remind me of the simple joys in life. I had just taken my niece to the park and she was so happy just sitting in a swing and it made me think “Why can’t everyone just feel that happy all the time?”.

Speak up and speak out about mental health

Never one to be the quiet or timid type, it would be difficult to find someone who thinks I’m anything other than boisterous and over-confident. Yet behind this male bravado there’s a sensitivity and vulnerability that I have always tried to mask.

Ask twice to show that you really do care and are ready to listen

Living with a mental illness can be extremely isolating and lonely. The relationship is two-way: others may not reach out as you have been understandably distant due to feeling unwell, and you may not contact others for the same reasons. It’s a vicious cycle.
 

Breaking the silence around mental health

I am not good enough. I am not worthy of love. I am not smart enough. I am not successful enough. I am not slim enough. I am not pretty enough. 
 
I am one of the 1 in 4 people who suffer from mental illness. 

Asking twice gets more people talking about mental health

Picture this. Your everyday. Getting home from a long hard day, something has annoyed you, you’re feeling down, some bad thoughts are circling in your head. A loved one, friend or family member asks, “How was your day?” and you, like every other day, happy or sad, and regardless of your mental state, utter “fine.” But sometimes it isn’t fine. Or even, you haven’t gotten out of bed all day, you feel like you deserved the rest but that isn’t what is keeping you there, and when someone asks if you’re feeling okay “I’m fine” seems to slip out anyway.

10 steps to asking twice if you feel someone isn’t fine

Time to Change has hit the nail on the head for me. Sitting alone in my flat, I realised that I don’t often discuss how I am feeling or what is going on in my head because it is a question that is seldom nor genuinely asked of me! I am rarely asked how I am feeling at all, let alone twice, and so I can appreciate the intent of an “Ask Twice” mentality, especially at a time where we are fighting for a global understanding of mental illness.

Why asking twice helps people open up about their mental health problems

Despite publishing a hundred books at the age of 19, I have been struggling with depression and Asperger’s Syndrome for a very long time. It wasn’t until last year that I decided to speak up about my struggles with mental health. Prior to that, I talked about my issues with mental health in many of the books that I’ve written over the years, but I never addressed it publicly.

Ask twice and start a conversation about mental health

Performing: I make a living out of it. I get on stage and make people laugh. I’m currently on tour doing just that. And I love it. But (and there is a but) even in a dream job, I’m constantly acting like I’m fine when sometimes I’m not. Don’t we all do that though? I mean, that’s part of my job, to entertain when sometimes I hurt inside. But aren’t we all putting on a mask when we are asked a simple question:

“How are you?”

World Mental Health Day: A Letter to My Colleagues

Dear colleagues,

I want to be open with you all about my own mental health, particularly at work and I would appreciate it if you could take the time to finish reading this.

It's hard to talk about mental health, so ask twice.

We all do it, don’t we?

‘How you doing?’

‘Yeah, I’m good thanks.’

Or, in my neck of the woods, ‘I’m alright.’

No further questions your honour.

Most of the time we will be just that: alright; fine; okay. Good, even.

Sometimes though, we won’t be. Sometimes we might feel that our whole world is falling apart. Still, ‘I’m alright.’

But sometimes, all we want is for someone to see. For someone to break through and ask, ‘Are you sure?’

5 ways to ask twice when your mate says I'm fine

When asked “how are you?”, how often do you tell the truth?

Yep, thought so. Don’t worry, I fib too. All the time.

Now, how often, when someone says to you “I’m fine”, do you follow up if you’re think they’re not? Yep, me too.

I’m very fortunate that I have a fiancée, some family members and a handful of mates who seem to sense when my mental health is dipping and know to ask me twice (or more!) if they hear “yeah, fine, you?”.

Now, asking twice doesn’t mean literally saying the same thing again. That would be annoying.

“How are you?”

Mental health needs way more understanding

Just because it’s called a mental health problem, it doesn't mean that I’m ‘mental’. 

I hate the word mental. There are so many negative connotations that surround it; to call a person mental is to call them mad, or out of control, or ludicrous. Yet, unfortunately, I have a condition that is defined as a mental health problem; I have depression.

I Felt Isolated

If you'd asked me about my mental health a year ago, I would have told you I was fine when really, I was struggling. I had a mental illness and I was hiding it. I didn't want to tell anyone because I didn't want people to think I was weird, dangerous or "crazy". The stigma has resulted in me feeling excluded and unable to fit in. It has made me feel isolated and like there is something wrong with me.

The reality of living with OCD

From a very young age, I knew there was something different about me. It seemed to me that everyone around me was separate and I was encased in my own bubble, my own world and it frustrated me to tears that I couldn’t work out how to make that bubble pop. Soon, my bubble solidified. It became glass. It was suffocating and at times, my glass bubble would fill with water, drowning out the minute amounts of happiness, reason, and calm that I had left.

Talking about my mental health was the key

Provide. That’s what us blokes do. Safety, shelter, security, protection. Nothing stops them, nothing phases them, they take on anyone and anything. Straight forward isn’t it? No.

Mental health stigma needs to end

Some people with depression are made to feel like it is their fault for feeling the way they do and are told to simply ‘get out more’ and ‘snap out of it’. Similarly, those who have anxiety or OCD are told to ‘pull themselves together’ and to ‘stop worrying over little things’.

Employees should be encouraged to talk about their mental health

The other day, I wasn’t feeling quite right. A few things were getting on top of me at work and at home, and I was talking to a friend about how I felt. We were discussing whether I should take a day off, and he said that he would never admit that he wasn’t coping to his work, and would probably just say that he was feeling a bit sick.

BPD is not ‘attention seeking’ but a crippling mental illness

Mental illness has a vast and diverse spectrum. In its most simple form, a summary of ill mental health could be; troubles of the mind that has adverse impact on people’s day to day lives. What people often forget is that mental illness may not just affect the recipient, but also the people around them. The chances of encountering ill mental health in a lifetime are approximately one in four, which means if you are lucky enough to escape, you will still most likely be in close contact to someone who hasn’t been as fortunate.

10 things to say to someone with a mental health problem

Recently I’ve come across a number of articles/blog posts about what not to say to a friend/loved one with certain mental health problems. Whilst these are useful, as it’s hard to know what comments could affect others more than you, constantly hearing ‘don’t say this’ and ‘don’t say that’ can make people feel like they have to tiptoe around people who are struggling. This feeling is not necessary and can make the conversation even harder to have than it already is, or prevent it from happening altogether.

Katie's 3 things not to say

"Around mental health in general, there is a lot of stigma attached, a lot of misconceptions and a lot of phrases that tend to get used towards people with mental illness."

Watch Katie talk about the three most unhelpful things you can say to someone with a mental health problem and the impact this has on them: 

Having depression does not make me a failure

As a professional boxer, most people around me only see the finale – me stepping into the ring, in great physical shape and performing well under the lights and cameras. Amidst the occasion, it is easy to assume that everything is fine.

As my family and friends watch me compete, my true state of mind is not really questioned. And so, I continue to war with my 'lower thoughts' just as I do in the ring, alone.

When Darkness Came Knocking: A poem

Written in support of Time to Change....sharing my own experience as a Time to Change Champion will hopefully support others who may be suffering.

By Carol Harte

I felt guilty about my depression

A year ago, I was one of those people who, if someone was stressed or depressed, would probably have thought: “What do they have to be depressed about?”

Little things can reduce mental health stigma

I am ashamed to say that most of my life I have ignored mental health stigma. I am even more ashamed to say that what has woken me up to it, has been my personal experience.

Why so ashamed you might say? We all only tend to care about something once it affects us personally.

My depression was made worse by secrecy

It’s ironic that on Mental Health Awareness Week for 2018 I’ve been signed off sick from work. It wasn’t intentional but it is symbolic. People suffering from mental health problems push themselves too hard for too long trying to pretend that things are OK, pulling a shroud of secrecy over their lives in the hope that people don’t find out how they’re really feeling.

I felt guilty about my anxiety disorder

The thing about mental health issues is this: you and others can't see them.

I remember when I was at my lowest point with anxiety. I remember thinking: “If I break my leg I can go to the doctor and he'll fix it. If I go to the doctor and tell him how I feel, they might never understand what the real problem is.”

Nobody tried to understand my bipolar disorder

I first showed signs of bipolar disorder at the tender age of 17. Family and work colleagues knew that I was not myself but could not understand what had happened to me, so my mum encouraged me to visit the GP. Sadly, he misdiagnosed my symptoms and assumed I had anxiety and depression. I then commenced taking antidepressants.

Mental health is generally dismissed in the Punjabi community

Having gone through difficulties myself during my time at university, I was hugely helped by my housemates who provided a formidable support structure to help me through tough times. Throughout my time at university, we all helped each other with a number of things. We were very close and could speak, share, and discuss pretty much anything. This environment helped a lot.

Women with PMDD aren't listened to

What is premenstrual dysphoric disorder?

Here is what it isn't.

It isn't 'feeling a bit blue' each month. 

It isn't 'just cramps and stuff'. 

It isn't 'getting a bit ratty'. 

I don’t choose to have bipolar or feel this way

I’ve never really talked about my mental health; maybe I’m embarrassed by it or what people will think of me. It often becomes awkward and some people even stop talking to me altogether. Some don’t get it. That’s ok. There’s a lot of illnesses I don’t understand either. Some get annoyed: ‘How can you be sad, what do you have to be sad about, you have a great life. You have me, isn’t that enough for you?’

An open letter to my colleagues about my mental illness

Dear colleagues,

I am sorry.

I realise that my behaviour has impacted those around me, both in the past, and also more recently. I don’t make excuses for the hurt that I’ve caused. And so, I’m writing you this letter because I want you to understand. Because you deserve an explanation and I think this is the best way to give you that explanation. You are honest with me and it is only fair that I do the same.

I made excuses not to talk about my depression

I lived a dual life, a private one and a public one, with depression for many years. To the outside world I had a great life – a lovely family, successful career and healthy lifestyle. But inside I was battling almost every day to simply survive, thinking I didn’t deserve any of it.

Depression is not the same as having a bad day

Many people know me as the person who laughs, smiles and jokes. But not many people know me as the person with a mental health condition. The reason for that is that there is no way of telling if somebody has a mental health condition.

Mental health in the Black community is still a taboo

As I've gotten older, it's become more apparent to me that talking about mental health in the Black and Asian communities is still very much a taboo topic and hardly ever spoken about. Over the last several years, I have made it my mission to break the stigma of mental health issues, especially in these communities.

My experience on a psychiatric ward was not what people expected

‘You’re being admitted to a mental health unit’ were words I struggled to comprehend. How can I be so high functioning in the legal profession and simultaneously require admission? One minute I was at work and the next minute I found myself at the local Accident and Emergency. I felt vulnerable as the ambulance took me to the unit, and then terrified as I stepped inside the unit and the doors locked behind me. The fear of the unknown consumed me. I felt like the tiniest fish in the biggest ocean.

Anxiety can be more terrifying than people imagine

These photos were taken just hours apart. I know the second one may be shocking, and certainly not the kind of picture anyone would be rushing to share on social media! However, I'm posting it because I know months ago, before I was diagnosed with anxiety, I thought I was the only person in the world who felt the way I did.

Talking about my self-harm helped me feel less ashamed

It is estimated that 4 in 100 people in the UK struggle with self-harm. It is one of the most common coping mechanisms for those suffering mental illnesses, yet it is still a taboo subject.

Self-harm is when someone intentionally harms or injures themselves. It is often a way of coping with overwhelming thoughts and feelings, and is very misunderstood.

People didn't think a man in his thirties could have an eating disorder

People like opposites. Right or wrong. Pass or fail. Leave or remain.

It’s how I often think about my mental health. I am well or ill. Recovered or relapsed. Coping or not coping.

Three years into my recovery from anorexia, I’m learning to admit that my mental health is not black or white. I’m learning how to talk about not being 100%.

As a man who loves both musical theatre and rugby, I am not anyone’s model of traditional masculinity. Fun for me is found in the shades of grey. In disagreement and debate. In diversity.

I was frightened to tell people about my OCD

When my therapist told me that I might be experiencing something called OCD, I nearly fell off my chair. Isn't OCD all about washing your hands 100 times a day?

I couldn't believe how much I didn't know about it. My therapist was amazing and took me through everything, then gave me a leaflet to go home and have a read through. 

You can’t see my anxiety but it is still there

To paint a background, I have a loving family, an incredible wife and two wonderful kids. My brothers are two of my best friends and I’m very close to my parents.

“You’ve always been a worrier”. This is true, but I mostly managed to deal with or largely ignore it. However, the past couple of years have become uncontrollable, and at points, quite unbearable.

People with mental illness are real people too

There is a secret; one that nobody is prepared to talk about; one so shocking it may bring down society as we know it. Am I talking about a scandal, or some sort of political corruption? Am I talking about some secret society that quietly rules over us, or perhaps I am talking about the fact we are all lizard people. While I would infinitely prefer to talk about any one of these things, I am in fact talking about the truth that, literally, nobody is talking about. I am talking about the fact that people with mental illness walk among us.

I was never encouraged to discuss mental health in my community

My gruelling battle with depression has been somewhat of a pilgrimage, without the heavenly resolution at the end of the journey. The experience could be described as a paradox. I savour the essence of being alone. However, that idealism is detrimental to my mental health.

You don’t need a PhD in psychology to talk about mental health

What’s more awkward? Making a colleague a cuppa and asking how they’re doing, or running through the DSM-V diagnostic criteria for depression to ascertain whether they require a professional referral? Any idea what I’m talking about?

The point is, you don’t need to know all this stuff to have a conversation about mental health. And even if you did, I doubt anyone would thank you for using it as an ice breaker.

Why not start conversations whenever and wherever?

It’s Time to Talk Day, so I want to share the message that talking about mental health does not need to be something to be ashamed or embarrassed of. This means breaking down stigma and opening doors. Perhaps, the door to the doctor’s surgery. Or the door to the quiet room outside, where I believe it is okay to talk.

Managing the black dog that is depression

I’ve spent the past 15 years of my career – in recruitment and HR – raising awareness of disability issues in the workplace, encouraging individuals to disclose disabilities to employers, coaching partners through assessment and hiring decisions, encouraging candidates to choose a firm where they can show their true self at work and, above all else, selling the supportive culture of the law firms for which I have worked.

Mental health is dismissed within my culture

Mental health was not a term known to me until around two years ago. I didn’t know anything about the importance of your own wellbeing, nor did I understand the devastating impact it would have on people I know. If I know anything about mental health issues it’s through my own research after a conversation with colleagues or friends. Whilst I love my heritage, the reason I knew nothing of about it is probably down to my culture and community. 

Some people still don't 'believe' in depression

When I’m really struggling internally, I overcompensate externally. Think Ross from Friends when he finds out about Rachel and Joey. That episode struck a chord with me because I’ve lost count of the times when I’ve tried to put on a good show and ended up looking like an absolute idiot. I’d get all loud and animated; try to be funny; try to convince others and myself that there’s nothing wrong. They say the unhappiest people are the ones that seem the happiest. For a large chunk of my school days, that was me. My face was laughing and smiling but my eyes weren’t.

Mental health shouldn’t be a taboo subject

It's never easy telling someone about your mental health. It's never easy trying to explain the heavy feeling in your chest, the lack of motivation you have, the heavy head and whirlwind of sad thoughts constantly sitting in the back of your head. 

Why OCD isn’t about being a ‘neat freak’

For as long as I can remember, I have heard people say they are "so OCD" or "I definitely have OCD", a throw away comment because they had just spent an hour deep cleaning their house or they had to straighten a wonky picture on the wall. Comments that made me doubt and question myself for years. Why? Because all along I was suffering with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) yet I wasn't aware.

Friends didn't judge me for having BPD

Having friends in my corner has made the prospect of recovery seem possible - something I spent years believing wasn’t. One thing that always made me sceptical, about disclosing my mental health difficulties to friends, was the fear of them judging me and no longer wanting to be friends, due to the stigma associated with my illness: Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

Talking about my mental health inspired my mates to do the same

I’m unsure I’ve ever been described as an ‘inspiration’, until now. Should it even matter?

I think it does because words – carefully-chosen or not – can shape attitudes. How often have we watched, or read about, a Paralympian’s medal-winning success and the adjective ‘inspirational’ has been used? It’s meant as a sincere compliment, and yet an unintended consequence may be to reinforce what makes them different.

Talking about mental health with mates has been life-changing

We are Emma and Sophie and two years ago we bumped into each other while we were out for dinner. We had been really good friends in the past but had fallen out of touch over the last few years. We had never meant to lose touch but we had both been scared that too much time had gone by to reconnect.

People’s reactions to my mental illness made it harder to deal with

When I first started battling with my mental health, I thought the mental illness would be the hardest thing to deal with - little did I know that other people’s reactions to said mental illness would make the battle into a war. Ultimately it feels like an attack on you, as your illness is part of who you are. In reality, it’s due to a lack of understanding.

My parents told me prayer would fix my mental health, but now I talk about my feelings

I grew up in a family where we didn't talk about mental health so all the issues I was dealing with were swept under the rug. I was always told to pray about it because prayer solved everything and I knew/felt that wasn't true. I wanted to talk about it and find out why I felt the way I did or why I hurt myself, physically and mentally, the way I did, but no one in my family wanted to help me with that.

I’d rather people ask questions about my schizophrenia, than assume

Responses from employers, when they have discovered that I have schizoaffective disorder, have been wide ranging. This has been from the humiliation of being marched unceremoniously from the premises, by a ridiculous number of panicked little men in ill-fitting suits, or to the wonderful rare occurrence of the university HR department last month, who talked me through my fear of speaking to a lecture hall full of first year students.

Being a Time to Change Young Champion has given me a voice

Becoming a Time to Change Young Champion has completely changed the way I live; it has given me the confidence to talk openly, without shame or fear, about my mental health. I no longer feel I need to lie about my experiences, or worry that conversations about my health will make others and myself feel uncomfortable. I have learnt a lot by sharing my experiences and I hope I have helped others too.

Being open about mental health is good news for employers and staff

I first experienced warning signs of my impending breakdown in autumn 2008. I'd been working long hours in a major bank, the financial crisis was kicking off and there were widespread rumours of large scale redundancies - or even the bank going bust. I’d just bought a house, my girlfriend's income was fairly unpredictable, and we were quite stretched financially.

Finally talking about my depression is such a relief

Talking about it is such a relief, although it has taken me two decades to realise it. My story started when I was a child. Witnessing my incredible Mother experience two horrific mental breakdowns really affected me more than I could ever recognise being so young. I couldn't understand why she would be in tears on a daily basis, and shielded from us by my Father as she just couldn't cope with life itself. It wasn't until my own breakdown recently that it suddenly dawned on me just how dreadful coping can be during these times.

7 mental health conversations from my relationship

1. “I’m actually a little obsessive compulsive myself.”

That’s the first time I mentioned my mental health to my boyfriend. I can’t remember it exactly but we were still getting to know each other on a dating app and he was telling me about his neat-freak flatmate.

It was a bit of a white lie because I’m actually very obsessive compulsive. So much so that I was given a diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) along with the accompanying depression and anxiety.

Talking about my suicidal thoughts showed who my friends are

Suicide is a big word! From seeing it portrayed in the media to reading people’s personal stories, either a family’s experience or the person themselves, it can be scary to even think about. My journey with it began when someone close to me experienced suicidal thoughts, but I never really understood what they were going through at the time, how it could affect someone mentally and physically – feeling so low and wanting to never tell anyone about what you’re going through.